The Disengaged and the Trapped

By Adrian Wait, Community Development Worker, (Currently – unemployed). A Person.

Is Anybody Listening?

This is a question we all raise when exhaustion becomes married to an endless feeling of banging our head against a wall, the wall of indifference. My aim was/is merely to raise the sense of powerlessness experienced when faced by a system that is forever professing to tackle social exclusion, and to promote community without grasping the need to recognise the individual.
I could write of many experiences working with communities who are socially excluded, individuals whose lives are blighted and restricted by poverty, and expound the various strategies adopted to tackle their situation. I could write of my commitment to challenging all forms of exclusion; of my experiences of striving to restore the dignity of the community I have worked with in establishing a community based advice & information project on a ���sink estate���. I could highlight the problems faced when seeking to bridge the gap between the disengaged and the trapped. All within my many years experience both as a ���professional��� - paid community development worker, and as a voluntary activist.
However, I truly believe the most important experiences I have had are of being ���surplus to requirement���, of being unemployed and struggling against the labelling and against the wicked system that seeks to use unemployed people to keep inflation down. All of my working experience is fuelled by my experience of being socially excluded, and more importantly of experiencing the pain of not being able to contribute to my family, my community ��� being robbed of the gift of giving! This is a most profound and life-changing experience: a lack of adequate income reinforced by feelings of inadequacy and rejection. And how quickly this can happen to an individual! I had been working on a ���sink estate��� from 1989 until October 2003 when, through burn out and several key life experiences, my health failed. After long-term sick leave the funding body ensured my contract was terminated. Now, nine months or so down the line, I am facing life on ��55.60p a week. I am being forced further into debt, not because I do not want to meet my commitments but because I simply cannot meet them.

Regeneration: The Centrality of ���Things���

Community engagement is about ���things���, it is about being excluded because of a lack of money and low self-esteem. It is about not having ���things��� like a job, self-respect, self-confidence, or any plans for the future. It is also about having ���things��� like isolation, depression, loneliness, ill-health, run-down estates, noisy and often anti-social neighbours! Where would You begin to tackle such issues? Would such ���things��� enable and encourage you to attend Community Regeneration events? Would You have the resolve, the confidence, the heart, to face a room full of confident professionals who speak of ���empowerment and local strategic partnerships���?
When people are trapped by their situation and discounted as apathetic, ���rough & ready���, scroungers, poor, disadvantaged, is it any wonder that they become ���excluded���. A sense of self-worth is vital to our lives. Too often this is neglected and undermined by a paternalistic approach that reinforces the gap between the ���helper��� and the ���helped���. It can lead to a relationship that disables and dismantles self-worth, ���brick-by-patronising-brick���.
If renewal and regeneration really is to make a difference we need to seek to reconcile the gap between the disengaged and the trapped, we need to be realistic about the task ahead of us. I believe that when we do recognise the enormity of the task, it will bring us to our knees ��� which is probably the best place to start!
The ���something must be done about it��� brigade often view estates as places where there is crime, vandalism and drug-pushers, and where conditions are only what ���they��� deserve. No one should doubt the problems and issues that deny a sense of well-being, safety and security, but these problems are not exclusive to inner cities. You are far more likely to witness a drug-pusher wearing a suit, carrying a briefcase and living in a ���posh��� area.
Our communities are not God forsaken. God has never deserted areas where many would not want to be seen, let alone live or even engage with in purposeful regeneration work. But isn���t this where God calls His Church to be? ���I, your Lord and Teacher have just washed your feet. You, then, should wash one another���s feet. I have set an example for you, so that you will do just what I have done for you. I am telling you the truth; no slave is greater than his master, no messenger is greater than the one who sent him. Now you know this truth how happy you are if you put it in to practice��� (John 13:14���17).
If the Church is to express God���s love and care then it must affirm the people in our inner-cities, and our outer-estates. God does not ���look after��� his people, He loves them, He walks with them, He affirms them. His grace has been, and remains, sufficient to those that take up the plough, those who have dared to trust His word, and lean on His everlasting love. Is Anybody listening?

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